Alan and I woke before sunrise for our rafting and snorkeling venture. We chose to tour with a company called Blue Water (known for their personalized, adventurous excursions) in hopes that we may avoid a typical tourist-centric trip out to sea. The Kanaio and Molokini Snorkel and Rafting excursion fit our tall order. The tour allowed us to observe a variety of remote snorkeling sites, sea turtle habitats, and a rare, uninhabited part of the island, the volcanic Kanaio coast.
After our requisite safety briefing, we began our early voyage at the Kihei Boat Ramp, jumping on-board the raft as the sun began to rise. The sky was clear, but we bucked along wild waves fighting against the wind and current. As forewarned, this trip was not for the weary, weak, or delicate. Note: There were no seat belts, only ropes on the floor and alongside the raft to serve as points of contact. At 40 mph you can believe that our hands were gripping the side contact ropes and our feet were wrapped under the floor ropes. We buzzed past the island of Lana’i as we drifted farther from the Kihei Boat Ramp.
Lana’i, the sixth-largest of the Hawaiian islands, is also the smallest publicly accessible inhabited island. Once bubbling with pineapple plantations, Lana’i is now primarily owned by Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, who is optimizing the island for green-power production with an array of wind turbines. The island has also become a popular residential spot for celebrities. We continued to La Pérouse Bay by way of the ‘Alalakeiki Channel, which lies between Kaho’olawe and Maui, a seven-mile stretch. It has a depth of over 800 feet and translates to, “crying child” in Hawaiian.
Our rigid-hulled inflatable raft was powered by environmentally friendly outboards (twin Honda 4 stroke 225 HP motors). The raft, loving named Pineapple Express, was a thirty-foot Almar RAIV (Rigid Aluminum Inflatable Vessel) with a shaded canopy (which offered more than enough space for our five passengers). These rafts are often used for basic transportation by the U. S. Coast Guard and U. S. Navy due to their “unsinkable” nature.
Our guide navigated us toward the Kanaio sea caves, along Maui’s Gold Coast (past Wailea) and toward Makena, to a remote part of the coastline. From a distance we could see visitors occupying “Little Beach,” Maui’s only nudist (clothing-optional) beach. While I consider myself rather open-minded, I’m glad we weren’t to close to the shore – it was much to early for any unwarranted surprises. Along the Kanaio coastline, we observed crystalline lava formations, including arches, caves, and pinnacles unique to the area that were the result of lava pouring from multiple side vents into the sea from Mount Haleakala. Our guide explained that the three prominent side vents occurred approximately two-hundred, four-hundred, and six-hundred years ago. Mount Haleakala, often thought to be inactive, has been known to erupt every 200-500 years. The most recent eruption occurred in 1790 and devastated the thriving community of Keone’o’io. The tangible result of that natural disaster could now be observed on the southern slope along the Kanaio Coastline. We approached a narrow passageway, referred to as the “Psychedelic Hallway,” which consisted of monstrous pillars. These pillars were created by distinct differences in the cooling rates of lava rock. The lava rock loomed above us, shades of rust, slate, sand, and white, with a crust of dark brown lava at the top. Patches of pink coralline algae climbed up the base of the formations; along the sea level white, crystalline granules of salt collected against the dark contrast of the lava rock.
We were served a breakfast of muffins and fresh fruit before we slipped into the protected waters at La Pérouse Pinnacle, which was teaming with sealife. It was here that I saw my first turtle gliding along the sand at the floor of the bay. I quietly hovered above her in the water, blocking the sun. She became acutely aware of my presence and calmly stared up at me, examining the threat. It was a delicate moment, but I was slowly accepted into her underwater world as she gently swam closer to me toward the surface. She tilted her head to get a better look as her leathery fins stretched up toward the skyline – it was a peaceful moment.
After a brisk twenty-minute ride, we approached the Molokini crater, a crescent-shaped volcanic islet five-miles off of the coast of Maui. The waves violently smacked the backside of the crater wall, so we continued our trek to the inside of the crater. We were visiting during the off-season, which proved to be a real treat, as the crater was absent of other boats or visitors. The water sparkled like that of sapphires, aquamarine, and emerald gemstones, as we dropped into the water to drift snorkel. Immediately, I noticed a school of Black Durgons congregating at the center of the crater bay. As I drifted closer, they moved like flames within a fire, fluttering around each other. Yellow tangs and striped wrasses were sprinkled among the reef, like small flames of color swaying among the coral. Bullethead Parrotfish shuffled through the sand with their beaked lips near the base of the coral reef. Rays of sunlight poked through the ocean’s waves and reflected off of the luminescent scales of the Bluefin Trevally. I was approached by several Cornetfish – they floated alongside me, glaring with their smokey button eyes and long tubular snouts. It was a phenomenal sight – and it was difficult for me to absorb that this vast, picturesque world existed just beneath the surface.
We had a deli-style lunch with turkey, roast beef, lettuce, tomato, cheese, condiments, veggies, dip, and homemade cookies. To quench our thirst we drank Hawaiian fruit juice and water before we ventured off to Makena to see a family of sea turtles. Along the lava fingers lived a family of green sea turtles – a male and his harem of females. Although endangered and protected, these turtles were not surprised to see us in their habitat. I saw one of the females first, deep in the coral caverns along the lava cliffs. There was a deep ravine in one of the lava rocks where the tide violently ebbed and flowed. I drifted several feet away from it to avoid being thrown against the living coral reef. I watched one of the female turtles as she was launched through the lava fingers with each tide that drew her into shore and carried her back out to sea. She looped around and was propelled between the towering corals with the tide once again. I watched her loop around multiple times, coming to realize this was a ride or a game. She stopped riding the currents, and I watched as another turtle approached her. Together they dined on the algae (limu) that grew upon the coral. The male, identified by his thick, elongated tail, was over one-hundred years old. He swam toward me as he breached the surface for air. As he swam closer, I noted his massive size and comparatively, felt as if I had shrunken in the salty ocean water. He gracefully paddled toward me, and I gave him a wide berth to avoid threatening him. He glided past me, his eye centered on mine. I was so close to him that if I reached out I would touch him. I allowed my arms to lay limb alongside my body to avoid contact, and I calmly swam alongside him, awe-struck and tranquil. I swam alongside him for a half hour, admiring him. With his acknowledgment and acceptance, I suddenly felt adopted into this alien world.
Tips for the Kanaio/Molokini Rafting Tour:
1) Use the facilities before boarding – there are no bathrooms on the RAIV.
2). Eat something small before leave. Breakfast is served about an hour into the tour.
3). Sit in the back of the raft for a more comfortable, steady ride, or sit in front of the helm for a bumpy, adventurous and ocean-soaked ride. You will be required to have two points of contact, which may include gripping a rope on the side of the raft.
4). Bring/purchase a waterproof camera – there are breathtaking underwater views that you will want to take with you.
5). Under Hawai’i State Law, there is a code of conduct; it is very important that visitors do not come into contact or touch coral or sea turtles. They are protected wildlife, and for their safety and conservation people are allowed to observe only.
6). Snorkeling involves very little swimming/paddling. A chance encounter with sealife is much improved if you move slowly and breathe slowly and steadily.
7). Please be respectful and tip your guide.
We enjoyed our evening in Lahaina, dining at Aloha Mixed Plate. They served fresh, affordable “mixed” plates, consisting of staple foods found in Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Chinese, and Hawaiian dishes. The Coconut Prawns, Shoyu Chicken, and Teriyaki Beef mixed plates were tender, well-seasoned, and beautifully balanced. We walked down the boardwalk along Front Street and visited a number of shops before we stopped at the famed Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice. I ordered the Coconut, Lilikoi, and Mango flavors with coconut ice cream and an ice cap. Even after gorging myself, I still have no idea what I actually ordered, but it was immaculate treat. Happy reading!
NOTE: All blog posts, articles, and photographs are the intellectual and creative property of Melissa J. Koziol. Thank you for reading!